THE barbecues are packed away, the sausages are eaten and another local government election is over.
Although the final make-up of elected representatives for Orange City Council is still up in the air, we’re at the business end.
It’s timely to send a message to the people elected to represent us at the most grassroots level of Australian government. And that message is, remember you are there to act in the public interest. Such a basic statement, and yet such a profound one.
It was US President Lyndon Johnson who once said: “Doing what’s right isn’t the problem. It’s knowing what’s right”. It defines the public interest issue faced by governments, elected representatives, bureaucrats, businesses, the media and every citizen in a democracy like Australia, when it comes to how we make decisions on big and small issues, and whether we become involved.
Knowing what’s right in a given situation can be clouded by other considerations. In the case of local councillors, knowing what’s right and in the public interest can be clouded by how a person was elected.
It’s why councillors are now asked if they are developers. It’s why councillors before each meeting are asked if they have a financial interest in anything before the council. It’s why some people object to political parties being involved with local government, based on the belief that party priorities might not necessarily be the best for the community on given issues.
Knowing what’s right and being prepared to stand up for it can require courage at times. There are often issues before councils which are highly controversial. Councillors are required to objectively assess the facts, listen to all sides, challenge material before them where necessary, and decide on issues after careful consideration.
Councillors have to be prepared to stand up and fight for open local government. Too often decisions are made behind closed doors. Too often the explanations for those confidential decisions are inadequate, or leave the community with the impression that their local council is not operating in the public interest, but rather in the interests of a few.
In Australia today there is growing cynicism about governments and politicians. To those about to find themselves sitting in Orange City Council’s chamber on a regular basis we say: our hope is that you prioritise open, transparent and respectful relations with your community, for the public good.